When Hepalonia meets back up with Tric Manu, she talks excitedly about the parade and awards happening the next day. Her cousin tries to dampen her expectations. If things go poorly with Sleidr they might need to leave town in a hurry. He suggests they would only need to stop at the Parting Glass to collect their belongings, but Heppa insists she would also want to check up on Heledd to see how the cuttlefish treatment is progressing. There is just still too much to do in South Tower to leave yet!
Tric has already switched into his servant garb and left Mate at the ruined manor. The bird was initially not inclined to remain behind, but Tric pointed out something shiny and that caught the magpie’s attention. “We’ll see how good you are at catching rats… or Rats?” he said in farewell.
“What’s your name?” Tric asks his cousin now.
“We’re going to do this again… What’s your name?” he reiterates. She catches on, and they work out human aliases, cobbling together parts of names they have overheard during their travels since they do not want to exactly repeat any. They eventually settle on Heppa as the human noble Lady Maen and Tric as her faithful servant Bradith. Equipped with personas to accompany their disguises, they head over to the merchant area and look for gem and jewelry displays.
Tric puts on a show, examining gems and talking loudly and dismissively. Nothing has quite the right sparkle. Although they need Sleidr to sell them a ruby and an emerald, Tric also talks up their interest in opals, so that it will not seem too suspicious that they want exactly what he has. Tric spots Yrogin talking with a pale, skinny man in dark clothes with a shock of wild gray hair. This matches the description of Sleidr that their friends have given them. Tric cranks up his performance.
The servant Bradith holds up one ring after another to his lady, but Maen repeatedly shakes her head wordlessly no and occasionally frowns. “My lady has very exacting requirements,” Bradith tells one disappointed seller. He also critiques the setting of some of the rings, insisting that gold is far too gauche for her purposes. “Fear not, my lady, we will find another merchant. We will find the rings you need!” he nervously assures his mistress.
Hepalonia folds her arms and huffs. If she just keeps quiet and manages to not look like a dancer, she will be doing her part to support Tric Manu. “Does no one in this sad town have what we’re looking for?” he moans. “Ugh!” Heppa storms off from yet another wagon, and he hurries obsequiously after her.
The thin man approaches them, and beyond him, Tric sees Yrogin tip his hat in the prearranged signal. The trapper melts away into the crowds, his job complete. As Sleidr gets closer, Tric brushes him off. “Out of the way! We need to find some gems. Those rocks weren’t sparkly enough,” he complains, but then he quickly catches himself, turning to Heppa with servile apologies. “I’m sorry, my lady. I speak out of turn.” She just sniffs at him and tosses her head disdainfully.
Sleidr addresses the noble woman, completely bypassing her footman. “Your man here is doing you a disservice by not taking you to the most exclusive and private jewel dealers.”
“What’s that?” Tric snaps, feigning offense at the effrontery. “What’s that you say?” He makes a move to grab Sleidr’s arm, but the man agilely evades his grasp. Tric does note a grimace pass across his features as Sleidr shrugs his arm away; likely this shoulder felt the sting of Heledd’s knives.
Sleidr backs out of the servant’s reach, but alters his approach to smooth the ruffled man’s feathers. “Perhaps it is because you are out-of-towners that you don’t realize that all the merchants here at the festival carts are scammers. You’ve seen for yourself the low quality of their merchandise. None of them have what you need. I, on the other hand, have access to things that aren’t available for the commoners to sully with their eyes.”
The servant turns to his mistress. “I don’t know, my lady. Do you think this fellow really has what we’re looking for?” She shrugs, and he looks back to Sleidr. “Luck is with you today; she’s willing to hear you out.”
Sleidr leads them away from the jewelers’ carts to an area farther from the main thoroughfare. Certainly, he does not want any of those merchants seeing him show the goods. Not when some of them might be able to recognize the rings. He settles on a more open space where the occasional group of children run through at their play.
Hepalonia and her cousin follow without protest; this is pretty much what they expected would happen. Still, it is a little nerve-inducing to now be in the middle of their con. Heppa notices two other people moving through the crowds in the same direction but keeping a bit of a distance. Summoning her best impersonation of her mother’s imperious demeanor, Heppa dares to speak so that she can make sure Tric Manu knows of the danger. Leading with a long sigh, she says, “I do not appreciate the shadows.” Heppa herself has certainly been on the receiving end of more than one I don’t appreciate… over the years.
Tric, who had not noticed Sleidr’s backup, now looks around and spots two suspicious fellows. He wonders where the third might be. “Sir, are you a reputable merchant?” he demands of Sleidr.
“You misunderstand,” Sleidr tells the potential customers, not bothering to try to deny what they have observed. “They are for my safety. I am a gem merchant carrying high-quality goods that are quite dear. Those people you see are not following you; they are following me to protect me and my business’s investment.”
“Very well,” the manservant says, concerns assuaged.
“I overheard you were having difficulty locating a variety of gemstones. I do not have access to all of those, but perhaps the emerald or the ruby I have would meet your specifications. They are not mounted in gold, nothing that would clash with your ladyship’s outfit so horribly.”
“You have no opal.” The servant frowns. “We were hoping for a full set…” He glances over at the noblewoman and must read something in her expression. “I know, my lady, but I suppose we can see what he has and maybe at least make some progress.”
From an inner pocket of his close-fitting top, Sleidr draws forth a velvety pouch. He pulls from it an emerald mounted in a silver-colored metal. That fits what Heledd told them, that the ring Kachen wants is made of palladium. He holds the ring out toward Hepalonia. “Look at the beautiful facets.” The gem is flat-topped with bevels around the edge.
“It’s not quite the cut I know you were looking for, my lady—” the servant begins, but the noblewoman holds out her hand to Sleidr. He places the ring upon her palm, and she slips it onto one of her finely-gloved fingers, admiring how it looks there and how the light plays through it. Then she brings it closer to her well-shadowed face to examine it.
As soon as Hepalonia puts the emerald ring on her finger she feels better. She had not really noticed how tired she was from getting up so early and all the running around she has done so far today, but with the ring on, she feels as though she has a new reservoir of energy to tap. She can feel something from the ring, too, something similar to the ice shard she left with Daddy. This crystal, though, feels more ready to use, as though the energy threshold for moving magic through it is lower. What is Kachen building? she wonders. Is he trying to make something easier? What does he need to cast? Then a thought occurs to her about her own magic, and she considers all the healing that would be possible with such a ring. If it was easier and took less energy, she could be much more effective with her magical treatments. She tilts her hand this way and that, letting sunlight play through the gem. A minor blemish catches her notice, and she brings her hand close to her face to examine the stone more carefully. It turns out not to be a flaw, but the slightest evidence of etching. The emerald’s setting prevents a fuller view, but she thinks there is an actual rune carved on the lower part of the gem. This is just like the crystal from the necromancer’s staff; the metal ring is simply a means to hold the runestone.
While Heppa stares at the ring, engrossed, Tric continues to sell their fiction. “Ehh, do we really want this one?” he sighs. He plays the role of the weary servant, wanting to be done with the day, but also to fulfill his charge. “Is that going to work for you, my lady? Is this going to be the one? Well, hopefully the pair…” He turns from Heppa to Sleidr, who is eagerly watching her admire the ring. Alric mentioned that this fellow is greedy, and he certainly seems focused on the sale. Tric begins haggling, picking a price based on what they saw at the carts they visited earlier. “This is the longest she has inspected anything we’ve looked at today, but do you really expect us to pay two thousand for each piece! Absurd.” Tric really does think it is absurd, given how much he knows the basic materials cost from Heledd. The mark-up is insane! Gems seem to be practically worthless, but if you surround them in some fancy metal, suddenly nobility need to clear out their coffers. “You said you had another? Are you sure you don’t have an opal?”
Sleidr takes back the emerald and shows the lady the ruby. She puts it on almost immediately, giving him a good vibe that she is onboard for the purchase, even if her servant is dithering about the cost. Where can I find an opal real quick? I could really rake it in then…
“Now that,” Tric says, changing his tone to one of interest, “that is what we are looking for.”
As Heppa examines the second ring, the one that will be theirs when this whole affair is over, he continues his negotiations. Sleidr offers the pair together for three thousand, and they settle at ten coins shy of that. Tric feels that is sufficient for Bradith to have done his best. The thief also agrees to meet them at their lodgings to exchange the rings for payment, not putting up any fuss about them not walking around with such cash in their pockets.
Hepalonia slips on the ruby, excited by what this ring might do. Her heart is pounding in her chest, and she quickly realizes it is not nerves, but an actual physical response to the ring. Around her, everything else seems slower, like it is moving through honey. She keeps her curiosity in check to maintain their cover, merely sensing at the ring rather than actually activating its powers. This runestone—for she is sure that is what this ruby is—seems to give one uncanny speed. Though she does not cast anything right now, she feels that she would be able to gather energies more quickly through this ruby than she could through the ice shard. I wonder if Lady Sabine knows what these rings do… That thought leads her to consider how much the lady might know about runes at all. Glammur said that making them was a dwarvish practice, but maybe humans study them, too. She returns the ring to Sleidr, still curious about it but knowing she will have plenty of time later to experiment with it. Tric Manu and he have settled on a meeting time at the rundown manor near the docks, so this phase of the operation is a success.
As he parts ways from his buyers, Sleidr tells them he will consult his resources and see what they can produce regarding the opal. He knows it is unlikely he will be able to procure one in an hour, but he has made riskier plays before for great reward. He flashes a quick signal to his two underlings, and they leave the fairgrounds with him.
Heppa is practically shaking with excitement. I got to touch artifacts! Two of them! “Those were definitely artifacts!” she tells Tric Manu, voice low.
Sleidr and the two shadows Heppa called out earlier have departed, but Tric is still worried a third might be hanging around, so when his cousin breaks cover, he nudges her back into the roll. “That’s very good, my lady,” he replies, craning his neck around. “Sounds like our journey will be at an end soon—”
“There he is! There he is!” a voice shrieks. Tric braces himself, prepared to have Bradith complain about being confused for someone else again by fans of Tric Manu. However, it is not one of the adult customers of the Parting Glass who comes running up to him, but a small blonde human girl with a gaggle of other children in tow. “They won’t listen to me tell the story! Can you tell the story of the Ice Queen and the Fire Princess?” It is Myfi, Tilyn’s daughter. Her presence here suggests that Gumreddoc’s knees are indeed still well enough for farm work.
Tric decides there is nothing wrong with Bradith telling a story like this, even if Sleidr’s third flunky is secreted somewhere nearby, watching them. “Why yes, it’s a magical tale. From the Isle of Alduin, you know,” he begins, supporting the persona they crafted for Heppa. Myfi is puzzled and asks if that is where he learned the story. “That’s where it happened!” he tells her. Although he tells the story to the children, the show is really geared toward any spying Rat eyes. This time it is about the Ice Queen and the Fire Mage. It becomes a more elaborate tale of how they cleared vast mines of many dangerous creatures. Tric plays up the bats, which delights the children. Myfi inserts details every now and then, pieces she remembers from the earlier telling or that she makes up herself. Finally, Tric concludes with, “You should never go it alone. Every winter brings its summer; every summer brings its winter. Even on Alduin.”
The story goes over well, and the children run off squealing with laughter when he shoos them away. “I told you so!” Myfi shouts triumphantly to her friends. But leave she does, and without seeming to recognize Heppa.
“Everywhere we go!” Heppa marvels. “I think you’re famous.”
Tric is glad to see a satisfied audience, but that was time he would have preferred spending getting into position and actually planning the details of their ambush. Like traps! Should have set up traps ahead of time, he berates himself. This was dumb! The only trap he has is Mate, and only if the magpie is in a swooping mood. He consoles himself that he has not really had much time to work things out; it was just this morning that Heppa found Heledd, though it seems like ages ago. “There are downsides to being famous, turns out,” he mutters. “It’s a curse as well.”